PAX Panel Details

Posted: March 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production, Text Adventure History | 8 Comments »

I was holding back on the surprise guest, but it already leaked out, and what the heck, people should have all the facts before they show.

The GET LAMP panel will take place right after the screening of GET LAMP’s PAX mix, in the same theater. By my estimate it’ll convene somewhere in the range of 11pm and go on for a tad.

Here’s the participants:

Mike Dornbrook’s Desk

Posted: February 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, Text Adventure History | No Comments »

Mike Dornbrook, who was one of my favorite interviewees for GET LAMP, was recently profiled on the website for one of the products made by his company, Harmonix. Called “Mike Dornbrook’s Desk”, it shows how great his office is, and how much respect he affords his days with Infocom.

Click on the image of his office to read further. It’s well worth it, and not that long.

GET LAMP Artwork and Poster

Posted: January 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production, Text Adventure History | 5 Comments »

I have a great announcement to make.

Along with finishing up editing, designing menus, planning out bonus features, and all the rest, I also have been working on the packaging for GET LAMP, which I want to be as enjoyable and true to the subject matter as possible. I am following the same template I enjoyed with the BBS Documentary, that is, a somewhat simple outside slipcover with a complicated and interesting inside multiple DVD tray. GET LAMP has two DVDs to BBS Documentary’s three, but the look is the same. (If you go over to the BBS Documentary order page, you can see what I’m talking about).

This time, I knew I wanted the back three-panel space to have one big piece of artwork on it. I wasn’t exactly sure how that was going to be accomplished, and I didn’t let indecision hold up other aspects of production, but it was somewhere there in the back of my mind.

Then I saw this weblog entry from a software house called Panic, who had decided (for fun) to come up with a fictional alternate history of the company extending a couple decades back, and one in which they had a financially-unsound decision to go into the Atari 2600 game business. They had realistically-weathered artifacts, a fake magazine ad, and some absolutely amazing cover art. Even though the company didn’t exist back then, the artwork captured the look of the old cartridge cover art perfectly.

I knew I’d found my artist.

His name is Lukas Ketner, he’s a Portland-based freelance illustrator, and together, through rounds of revisions and designs, we’ve come up with the artwork that will grace the inside of GET LAMP’s packaging.

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce the GET LAMP poster:

This will be the first thing you see when you open up the package, and I think it makes just the right impression about what’s waiting for you.

Lukas was an absolute joy to work with, and I recommend him for art projects you’re seeking to do – he was on time, on budget, and listened every step of the way.  His website has many more examples of his artwork and styles – he doesn’t just do retro 1980s box art!

So, I am so bowled over about this artwork, I am considering making it available as a poster for sale. This would be a high-quality print on really good paper. I’m researching this now, but I’d like to reach out and ask if you want to be notified if such a poster becomes available, and at what price.

If you’re interested, please mail me at and I will do a one-time mailing when final details about the poster’s availability and price are solid.


Some Possible Origins of Zork

Posted: January 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, Text Adventure History | 1 Comment »

Dr. Nick Montfort, who figures prominently in GET LAMP and who I’ve mentioned several times in this weblog, has put out an unusually detailed travelogue in trying to find the origins of Zork. Not the game, mind you – he wrote extensively about that in his book Twisty Little Passages. No, in this case he’s trying to track back the specific word Zork, which was bouncing around MIT at the time the game was being written and which hopped in as the title when it was used as a placeholder by the programmers. The name stuck, and the marketing and growth of Infocom forever enshrined the word with the game.

The entry, “A Note on the Word Zork“, utilizes a number of predecessors to the word (such as zorch) that were in MIT slang  from the 1950s, and paws around for a few pieces of literature, writing and citation that might have caught the eye of either the Zork creators, or people who then influenced the Zork creators.

What’s interesting about this sort of speculative work is that it is, by its nature, transient – over time a more firm connection might be found, or no connection ever found. It’s the kind of work that can be thankless, or tossed aside by a few choice words of the still-living creators. But it’s a great exercise, and I’m glad Nick has done it.

Somewhere Nearby is a Colossal Cave Paper

Posted: September 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: production, Text Adventure History | 2 Comments »

Finishing off a first version of the Adventure portion of GET LAMP, I am reminded of some of the shortcomings of the documentary form – when there’s a ton of information, an absolute pile of detail or aspects about a subject, you will be given a tantalizing amount of insight into a subject but crave more.

Or maybe you won’t crave more. For some, the subject covered over a few minutes will be sufficient. But for some of us, a certain few, you want to find out every last thing. And not just find it out… find it out definitively, where observation and verification rule the day, and not best-guesses and what-is-saids polluting the landscape.

To that end, as regards the game Adventure and its roots in real caving, as well as exactly what parts the two authors played in the project, you will simply not do any better than Dennis G. Jerz’ Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther’s Original “Adventure” in Code and in Kentucky. It is, very simply, the last word on the subject – I can’t imagine anyone going further than this into the history and aspects of Adventure any of us might want an answer to.

Jerz was and is critical to GET LAMP – his project proved to me that it was possible, very possible, to gain access to the cave that Adventure was based on. I had been told this was simply not within the realm of something I’d achieve, and here, he had done it. It drove me through a lot of barriers, intended or unintended, as I got there.

Several people photographed and mentioned in this paper appear in the film, including Roger Brucker, Nick Montfort, Noah Wardruip-Fruin, Don Woods, Andrew Plotkin, Warren Robinett, Jerz himself, and Dave West. Again, this is based on Jerz’ efforts and his highlighting the cast of characters I might meet.

For example:


Dennis Jerz, in the cave, pointing to the rusty rod (without the star on the end). (Photo by Lynn Brucker)


Jason Scott, next to the same rusty rod, a year or two later. (Photo by Peter Bosted).

Believe me, these are footsteps I have no misgivings of walking in, shoulders I have no issue whatever standing on.

Seriously, this paper is as good as it gets. If you’ve already known about it, great. If you haven’t… you’re welcome.

Great Map of Adventure

Posted: September 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, Text Adventure History | No Comments »

A warning – any maps you look at for a game you haven’t played will undoubtedly spoil the game for you. If you haven’t played Adventure yet, what are you doing here? You should check it out; play it for free either here (flash version) or here (java version) or even here (java version).

Maps are, of course, inherently spoilers by their very nature – they tell you where everything is, how much left you need to explore, and sometimes how to solve the puzzles to get there.

They’re usually scrawled out while the game is being played, or drawn by the software company/author behind the game itself to provide as a solution or hints.  They’re rarely nice works of art by themselves.

I thought this map, done by Mari Michaelis, was particularly well done:


I also find it surreal that I’ve actually been inside some of these locations.

June 2009 Update!

Posted: June 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production, Text Adventure History | 12 Comments »

Time passes…

There’s not been an update here for months, and I am sure for some people it’s been a little weird. I had promised there wouldn’t be gaps like this, but then this gap happened. So, I figure let’s just put it all out here and let people know what’s up, instead of leaving things open to speculation and concern.

First of all, let’s be clear: this project is alive, and is continuing, and will be finished. If you had any worries along those lines, please don’t have them.

The reason things have been delayed is one of simple reality: my day job, which funds my existence and the production, went from being somewhere in the realm of what a work week should be to something that we’ll diplomatically call “demanding”. It became harder to be able to put this work aside at night and work on editing the movie, which asks for a certain frame of mind. I was able to do repetitive or low-mental-level tasks, like scanning and sorting, but going through footage and finding links to compare side by side, and planning the arrangement of sequences was something I was only able to work on every few days or once a in a couple of weeks. It slowed things down dramatically.

I have recently recalibrated my life so that I can work harder on the editing of the film and the rest of the production and move forward more quickly.


There’s a great movie here! I’m enjoying editing it again, and watching all these recorded interviews, split as they were across years, connect and form ideas, is always a thrill.  Now I just need to finish it.

As a parting gift, let me share an artifact that is both old and new. As part of the promotion for the Infocom game Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a PR photograph was taken of the two primary authors, Steve Meretzky and SF author Douglas Adams. This photo showed up in a variety of computer magazines and publications and for people who know the game from the time it came out, they probably ran up against this photo in one form or another.

I have had the opportunity to scan an original slide of this photograph, and do so at a ludicrous DPI setting, and so I present you this photo at the largest resolution and quality it ever has before.

Meretzky and Adams PR Photo

The Macintosh is simply placed in the photo to give a “computer” look to the shot (Douglas Adams was a big fan of the Mac, which had very recently come out). The real development work would have been done on the Digital VT terminal behind Meretzky’s left shoulder, which would be hooked up to the mainframe that held the ZIL environment that Infocom games would be written in. This is Steve Meretzky’s office at Infocom at the time – family photos are on the bulletin board. Not as obvious is that these are two very tall men: Douglas Adams was 6’5″ and Meretzky is comparable.

Thanks again for your patience, and I hope to have more frequent updates in the future.

Another Map of Adventure

Posted: February 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Text Adventure History | No Comments »

When the original Crowther and Woods adventure ended up on Compuserve back in the early 1980s, the players would go through the same puzzles, traps and effort that many before them (and countless after them) had to. But when they were done, they were done; the replay value wasn’t all that great. So Compuserve, being a money-making entity, did what a number of people did: they extended the dungeon.

The original adventure was 350 points, which you gained by performing different actions or acquiring treasures. The New Expanded adventure added more puzzles, and more points, inviting people back in again (for additional hourly fees).

It was pointed out to me by James L. Dean that this weblog entry has another pen and ink drawing like the one I previously mentioned, but for this expanded adventure:


Now, granted that this is not what you would exactly call “Like New” condition, but you can see the difference from the previous map that I referenced, and especially how they had to struggle, again, to get all the crazy pieces in.

Something about these artistic portrayals of (mostly) made up spaces seems to set something off in me internally, in a good way. I like the idea of an artist having to both know the game, and the descriptions, and somehow reconcile it all into a functional space.

“Computer Games Have No Respect for you”

Posted: February 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, Text Adventure History | 7 Comments »

I love this article. While scanning in a bunch of artifacts, I found this newspaper column written in January of 1985. It was acquired by a clipping service for Infocom during the cycle of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (hence the paragraph that is outlined in yellow) and is nearly 25 years old.

Called “Computer Games, and Players, have no respect for you”, this article tells the travails of playing Interactive Fiction in 1985. Specifically, playing Infocom games, because the author mentions Zork, Suspect, and Hitchhiker’s Guide as the games she tried to play. In all cases, she hates the format and hates the tone of the games. It’s an enjoyable counterpoint to the rah-rah approach most articles (and, really, a lot of the documentary) find themselves promoting. People who normally didn’t engage with computers as game machines found themselves doing so for Infocom games and adventure games, and the process wasn’t always for their enlightenment or enjoyment.

Computer Games Have No Respect

You can see the full-size scan here. I went and tracked down the author, Gayle Gertler, and she’s still living in Providence, selling Southwestern-themed items (which she was interviewed about in the paper). It looks like she was an editor when she left in the 2000s, meaning she had a nice long run in the newspaper business. Maybe I should ask her what she thinks of these games now…

An Adventure Tournament

Posted: January 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, Text Adventure History | 4 Comments »


As mentioned in a previous entry, the original adventure game, “Adventure” (or “Colossal Cave” depending on who transferred the game to what system) was a feature on the old (now-gone) time-sharing and information service Compuserve.  Like a bunch of the games at Compuserve, really wonderful illustrations and posters were created to promote them, even though they had no actual graphics. Such as it was for the advertisement I got from a posted item at a site called Daily WTF, the main admin of which I interviewed for GET LAMP.  (He’d done some unrelated-to-the-site work in interactive fiction.) The actual article this came from on there was not up to standards, mostly showing the ads for this and other adventure games, and then making fun of them.

Concentrating on this advertisement alone, there’s a lot being said here that’s really interesting to me.

First of all, this is in the 1982-1984 era, considering several factors of promotion and how they chose to spend their advertising dollars. (I might be off by a year, but 1982-1984 had some amazing ads made.) The poster on the left is by a man named Gray Morrow, who was a legendary illustrator whose work spanned decades and covered everything from comic books to science fiction covers, pin-up art and all manner of stylish graphic work.  Notably, he’s tried to incorporate aspects of the game Adventure into the painting, including the dragon, the dwarf with axe, the jeweled trident, and even the bird in a cage. Not bad.

The event itself is rather interesting; a nationwide “Adventure Tournament”. I have not the slightest idea how this would be conducted. (New rooms added to the games? There were expanded versions of Adventure available on Compuserve and perhaps this was one of the opening days for a new version.) What I do know is that compuserve was expensive, costing you upwards of $10 an hour to be on. Assuming this tournament cost you regular fees, then you were spending $10/hr or thereabouts to have the chance of winning a poster and two free hours. Pretty bogue. As an additional bit, you would even be charged for postage and handling of the poster being offered for “free”!

This whole event smacks of the sort of experimentation happening at Compuserve at the time.  Trying new events, making people revisit the games, or other properties, and always that huge hurdle of explaining these games and the experience of being online. It’s quite a piece.

If someone played in this tournament, I wouldn’t mind chatting with you, just to have the history of it.